The James Blue Project is pleased to make available this streaming copy of James Blue’s pioneering essay film, which, in spite of the official restrictions prohibiting United States Information Agency films from being released in the United States, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature of 1968. The film examines, visually and poetically, the efforts by people on three continents to improve agricultural methods and conquer world hunger. Below, you will find some of the fascinating materials found in the James Blue Archive that illuminate the film’s production and reception.
Notes on the film print
One of the two 16mm prints of A Few Notes in the James Blue Archive, which had been in the possession of Blue’s brother Richard for many years, was discovered to be in far better condition than other known extant prints.
For example, the National Archives recently restored Blue’s USIA films, and did a magnificent job producing glorious copies of The March and Blue’s Colombia Trilogy. However, the Archives’ print of A Few Notes, Blue’s first color film, is seriously faded. It is therefore a great relief and pleasure for the James Blue Archive team to be able to work, with the blessing of Criss Kovac and other friends at the National Archives, on preserving a print that gives a better sense of the original film’s rich colors. This digital transfer was generously supported by the James and Richard Blue Foundation.
CreditsA film by James Blue Year of release: 1968 Produced by the United States Information Agency Filmed in Taiwan, India, Kenya, and Brazil Photographed and co-directed by Stevan Larner Co-written by James Blue and Gill Dennis Edited by Lee Alexander and Meyer Odze Running time: 35 min. 35mm color sound film
- Nominee for Best Documentary Feature, 1969 Academy Awards
- “Golden Eagle” from CINE (Council on International Non-Theatrical Events)
- Best Documentary and Best Color Cinematography at the 11th International Film Festival Vancouver
James Blue’s modestly titled A Few Notes on Our Food Problem (1966-68) has claim, through the force of its message and its cinematic beauty, to be regarded as one of the few really great documentaries…Blue, having possessed himself of all of the facts and statistics and arguments, constructed his film from original shooting in Africa, Asia and the New World in the form of a poem infused with passion and compassion, anger and hope, and above all a feeling for the real goodness to be found everywhere in ordinary folk. —Basil Wright, The Long View: An International History of Cinema
One person at Buffalo who certainly influenced me was James Blue, who was also one of my teachers at UCLA. He was a documentary filmmaker, a guy who’s pretty important in the development of the essay film in the United States …. particularly a film he made in 1968 for the United States Information Agency called A Few Notes on Our Food Problem. —Thom Andersen
Synopsis by James Blue
The situation is staggering. The Earth is producing people at a faster rate than food to feed them. Scientific methods are needed to grow more food, but in most developing nations, farmers still use ancient techniques. The film-maker takes us over three continents in search of images which illustrate the problem.
In series of scenes, peasants in Asia, Africa, and Latin America confront us with the harsh realities of their lives. We learn why it ‘makes sense’ not to grow more food.
For too long, the traditional farmer has been thought of as irrational and unambitious. Here, he emerges a man with shrewd judgment, capable of surprising change. He is no longer content with his grass shack and bullock. He wants more out of life. If he can live better on the farm he will grow more food. If he cannot live better he may abandon the farm and go to the city making a bad situation even worse.
The unambitious peasant is a thing of the past. The problem facing those nations today which must increase their food supply is that they are dealing with a dissatisfied modern man.
Script of A Few Notes: Narration, Titles, and Visuals
James Blue on A Few Notes
In August 1971, a correspondence developed between Anil Srivastava of the Cinema Workshop in New Delhi, and James Blue, while Srivastava was researching an article for Movement magazine. The main topic discussed was Blue’s filmmaking activities for the United States Information Agency (USIA) between 1962 and 1968.
Richard Blue introduces A Few Notes at the University of Oregon
James Blue’s brother Richard introduced A Few Notes at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art’s Schnitzer Cinema series on December 11, 2013. The screening was part of Cinema Pacific’s six-month Tribute to James Blue. Richard Blue’s career spans five decades as a Foreign Service Officer and an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota.
Article on the making of A Few Notes
Rice University Professor Blue’s exam questions on Food as an expository essay film
Samples of James Blue’s research materials
Here are just a few samples of materials that are now being processed and catalogued in the James Blue archive at UO Special Collections.
Letters from James Blue to Bruce Herschensohn
James Blue agonized about his film productions and his abilities as a filmmaker, as evidenced in his notebooks and letters. It was difficult for him to let go of A Few Notes, and there were several letters to Bruce Herschensohn, Director of Motion Pictures and Television at the USIA, requesting the opportunity to re-edit the film after it had been submitted as complete. Samples of these can be seen here: